I believe in free speech*

By | March 26, 2017

“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Today, I came across two Facebook updates by Andrew Loh (here and here) where he asked: 

I don’t normally post elaborate responses to Facebook conversations but this time I felt compelled to because:

1. I find it surprising that having suffered at the hands of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), Andrew does not realise the irony of what he is trying to propose.

2. The arguments put forth by some against “absolute free speech” were getting ridiculous.

You either believe in free speech or you don’t. There are no two ways about it. You can’t say that you believe in free speech, but then put a big asterisk next to it with a fine print about the conditions when speech is not free. Can you see how ridiculous it is?

It’s like one of those promotions that says “FREE!*” Who the fuck believes that?

Ok, I guess I have offended some people with that irresponsible speech. But guess what? Alvin Phua rightly pointed out:

And then there are those who use the age-old fire-in-the-theatre argument to justify the boundaries for free speech:

To which, without going into a long-drawn philosophical debate, Christine Sng Mechtler summed up the difference best with these three choice words:

Andrew and several others mentioned somewhere (can’t remember where I saw the comments as it became difficult to track the conversations) that if we impose limits to free speech, it will have to apply fairly to everyone, including that obnoxious IB, Jason Chua. Problem is, if the law of the day ruled that what Jason the cockroach says is well within the legal framework of “free speech”, do you just go lppl?

Once you advocate that a higher authority has the right to determine what is ok within the context of free speech, you basically cede your rights to any form of free speech.

There are also some who tried to tout “responsible speech” as a substitute for “free speech”. What the fuck is “responsible speech”? Who decides what’s responsible, and responsible to whom? Once you go down this slippery road, you will risk having one party dictating to another what constitutes “responsible speech”. And the outcome is already quite obvious. Censorship.

What I believe is that free speech should be guided only by your own moral and ethical principles, and if your principles happen to be immoral/unethical, expect people to challenge them. Or walk away (hey, that’s a valid option too!).

What irks me is when people resort to straw man argument to state their case against free speech, as Jolene Tan rightly observed:

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If anyone like Alvin Phua admits that he's sprouting nonsense, sure it's fine and it's within his rights to sprout nonsense, as it just goes to show his level of intelligence – he wants freedom of speech just to sprout nonsense, and not to advocate any point or wider issue of concern. But what is your definition of the context of free speech? Can anyone insult everyone else without being responsible for their own words? Correct me if I'm wrong, you agree that people do not need to bear any responsibility for what they say. Being free to say anything… Read more »


Just to add, everyone should have freedom of speech. Oh ya including the IS terrorists too. They advocate that the non-Muslim world and everyone who opposes their killing tactics should be killed i.e. enemies of their religion. Oh of course they have their right to say that. Let them convert more and more terrorists to their cause. Youtube doesn't need to ban them. Why don't we let them hold public talks in Singapore? BECAUSE everyone has freedom of expression. Back to my point, what is your definition of the context of free speech?

Stephen Yeo

Your long and often contradictory comment just goes to show that you either didn't read my post or you are incapable of comprehending it. Or both. Actually, your take on Alvin Phua's comment is a dead giveaway and I realise that if I were to come down to your level to respond, it will set my IQ back a couple of notches. But just to entertain you, your attempt to lump lies and bullying with free speech is disingenuous at best. All I can see is that you are trying to form a tenuous link between free speech and the… Read more »